Commentary on par. 1 Encyclopedia

§1 Thought and Necessity

Philosophy misses an advantage enjoyed by the other sciences. It cannot like them rest the existence of its objects on the natural admissions of consciousness,


It cannot simply presuppose its objects as if they are given.

nor can it assume that its method of cognition, either for starting or for continuing, is one already accepted.

It has to prove its necessity, demonstrate why its conceptual and rational approach is necessary to understand the truth.

The objects of philosophy, it is true, are upon the whole the same as those of religion.

Philosophy is about the Absolute and so is religion. One might say then, that philosophy is superfluous and obscure, because religion is the simpler and easier way to relate to the Absolute. Nevertheless this is not the case: Religion does not reflect fully on its object though reflection is part of its inner life. It presupposes faith as the way it is linked to its object but does not reflect on that in a complete sense. Only in philosophy does the Spirit that is envisioned in reality becomes expressed as it truly, in truth, is.

In both the object is Truth, in that supreme sense in which God and God only is the Truth.

By using the word God Hegel makes it clear that the truth he is seeking is both the absolute in a real sense: beyond God is no reality, all reality is in a way ‘in’ God. Yet, this absolute, unlike Spinoza’s Absolute Substance, is also Subjectivity, life, thought, movement within history. That allows him to drop the prejudice that reality and thought are separate things – a legacy of Cartesian dualism where the whole of reality was divided into thought and externality.

Both in like manner go on to treat of the finite worlds of Nature and the human Mind, with their relation to each other and to their truth in God.

That is to say that both religion – theology- and philosophy are a systematic treatment of the whole. Not just the absolute as such, but everything in reality must be shown. Each thing is connected in a specific way to all other things. Each thing is expressive in a certain way of the whole. And, of course, the totality of the whole is dependent on the nature of the single elements it is containing, without being just the sum of them. The system does not proceed as an infinite addition of particulars. Philosophy is not a stamp collection.

Some acquaintance with its objects, therefore, philosophy may and even must presume, that and a certain interest in them to boot, were it for no other reason than this: that in point of time the mind makes general images of objects, long before it makes notions of them, and that it is only through these mental images, and by recourse to them, that the thinking mind rises to know and comprehend thinkingly.

Even though it cannot presuppose its objects, it must presuppose a general familiarity with the object. The absolute is already present and effective reality. It is therefore already to some degree expressed in culture, in language, in our understanding of the world, in our social institutions, in art and religion etc. Philosophy then becomes the reflective analysis of what is already out there, and what is already understood to some extent.

But with the rise of this thinking study of things, it soon becomes evident that thought will be satisfied with nothing short of showing the necessity of its facts, of demonstrating the existence of its objects, as well as their nature and qualities.

Even though philosophy has to presuppose this familiarity of its object, this does not mean it can be content with that. Its own procedure is a demonstration of the necessity of a given category or concept, and a demonstration of the reality – in the sense of an explication, not empirical research of course – of that concept.

Our original acquaintance with them is thus discovered to be inadequate. We can assume nothing and assert nothing dogmatically; nor can we accept the assertions and assumptions of others. And yet we must make a beginning: and a beginning, as primary and underived, makes an assumption, or rather is an assumption. It seems as if it were impossible to make a beginning at all.

We are left with somewhat of a problem. Philosophy must begin somewhere and if it wants to demonstrate the necessity of its concepts and facts, it cannot presuppose anything. It must start from scratch. nevertheless, it does have an object that is already there and already understood and expressed to some extent. It has this as a necessary presupposition. Only by beginning with this necessary presupposition, can philosophy start at all. Hoe does one do that? Hegel found a solution with the argument, that if you cannot evade having a presupposition, you must start with something that is precisely the expression of that presupposition. That cannot be an inventory of everything that we already think we know. But it can be the main principle of all our preconceptions and prejudices: the notion that anyone of our concepts to some degree expresses – or refers to, or points at, or theorizes about – reality as such. That will be the main reason for Hegel’s choice for beginning with the concept of being, which is in a way the most immediate and simple way of expressing our necessary presupposition: that within our speech reality is somehow being expressed.

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